The severity of pollen in Williamsburg should not be overlooked


Rachel Bartz ’25 is most likely an International Relations major. When she isn’t writing the occasional Flat Hat article or arguing in the William and Mary Debate Society, Rachel can be found cooking, watching a movie or taking long walks in Colonial Williamsburg. Email Rachel at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

When I introduce myself to someone here and the question, “Where are you from?” inevitably arises, I always do a little half-smile before I respond, “California.” So far in Virginia, I have survived the horrid, humid time that was freshman orientation and the snowy, frigid weeks of January. I have been rained on without an umbrella or boots, slipped on endless bricks and watched as my hair routine tripled in difficulty as I tried to deal with all these freakish weather events. But no one, not one person, warned me about spring. No one thought it wise to mention, as I decided to come here or even long after I arrived, that if you have seasonal allergies, the South is like your own personal hell. 

If I had realized the gravity of the allergy situation, I might not have come here at all — that is how intense my suffering has been. It all started when my friend began aggressively blowing her nose a week ago. All of us in the dorm thought the foghorn-esque noises she made were hilarious and we laughed off her pain. For two days, her nose ran almost constantly and she worked her way through an entire roll of paper towels that quickly began overflowing from her trash can. She claimed her allergy medication wouldn’t kick in. We all laughed some more. I thought that was the end of it. It had been years since my seasonal allergies had bothered me back home in California. I had nothing to worry about. 

The next day, I knew something was wrong. But I reasoned with myself. I would be fine. I took one of my old, off-brand allergy pills. I would definitely be fine. I probably would have been fine too, on any normal day, but the pollen that morning hung thick in the air like a curtain. My first class was outside, and as I approached the rickety wooden tables I saw a heavy layer of yellow dust. The rest of the day I sneezed and blew my nose, but still harbored some hope. I didn’t feel that bad yet. It was just a little inconvenience. I asked a friend for one of her allergy pills and placed it on my desk to remind me to take it in the morning, hoping it would be more effective. 

Then morning came. I felt like roadkill. My nose had drained into my throat for what must have been the entire night because it was swollen and tender. Tears leaked from my eyes when I blinked. I sneezed a total of fourteen times trying to get to the bathroom. Nevertheless, I grabbed my things and hiked off to class, albeit rather slower than I had the day before. Things grew progressively worse as the day wore on. I was blowing my nose religiously in classes and still, the snot wouldn’t stop. I could feel the stares I was garnering, likely from people worried I was sick with COVID-19— I couldn’t explain that my real ailment was a sensitivity to pollen. My energy levels dropped so low I skipped sampling the new Tribe Truck menu in favor of an emergency nap. That night, pushed to the limit of human sanity, I turned in early. I had taken two different medications in two days. I had ordered a third that afternoon in a desperate haze for relief. As I drifted off to sleep, I said a little prayer that tomorrow would be better.

So, reader, I am happy to report that I have improved. The new medicine works better. I am still stuffy. There are still emergency tissues in my backpack. But now I can function almost normally. So if you are one of the many students on this campus who can lay around the Sunken Gardens and not so much as sneeze, I ask that you appreciate your lot in life. Thank the universe, your genetics, anyone or anything. And if you are one of us folk whose spring regimen involves stuffing toilet paper from the Earl Gregg Swem Library bathroom into your jacket pockets, I salute you. At least the flowers the administration has planted around campus look nice. 




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